WMAR-TV, virtual channel 2 (UHF digital channel 38), is an independent television station licensed to Baltimore, Maryland, United States. The station is owned by the E. W. Scripps Company. WMAR-TV's studios and offices are located on York Road (Maryland Route 45) in Towson (though with a Baltimore City mailing address), north of the Baltimore City–Baltimore County border. Its transmitter and antenna, which is on the landmark three-pronged candelabra broadcast tower, is located on Television Hill in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore.
On cable, the station is carried on channel 12 on most Baltimore area cable systems, including Verizon Fios, and on channel 2 on most outlying areas of the market.
From 1948 to 1981, WMAR-TV was Baltimore's CBS affiliate (making it the network's third full-time affiliate). In 1981, following concerns from CBS about the station's weaker-performing programming, WMAR switched to NBC, swapping affiliations with WBAL-TV (channel 11). On January 2, 1995, during a three-way affiliation swap that also involved WJZ-TV (channel 13) switching to CBS via the network's affiliation deal with Westinghouse Broadcasting, channel 2 became an ABC affiliate as a result of the network's affiliation deal with the E. W. Scripps Company. After losing ABC programming to a newly-created owned-and-operated station known as ABC Baltimore, on January 1, 2020, WMAR-TV became a news-intensive independent station.
WMAR first began broadcasting on October 27, 1947. It was the first television station in Maryland, and was the fourteenth television station in the United States to begin commercial operations. WMAR was founded by the A. S. Abell Company, publisher of the Sunpapers (The Baltimore Sun and its evening counterpart, The Evening Sun) and was the first completed phase of the Sunpapers' expansion into broadcasting; the newspapers also held construction permits for WMAR-FM, which signed-on at 97.9 MHz (frequency now occupied by WIYY) in January 1948 and a proposed WMAR (AM), which never made it to air. Channel 2's first broadcast was a pair of horse races emanating from Pimlico Race Course.
WMAR-TV's studios, offices, transmitter and tower were initially located at the present-day Bank of America Building in downtown Baltimore; the studios were later shifted into a larger space adjacent to the building. WMAR-TV moved into its present facility, known originally as "Television Park" on York Road, in May 1963.
Channel 2 was an independent station at its launch, largely because at the time it was not clear whether Baltimore would be part of the Washington, D.C. market (Baltimore is 45 minutes northeast of Washington, and most of the Washington stations decently cover the Baltimore area for major news stories and weather reports). In 1948, however, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) made Baltimore a separate media market. On March 29, 1948, WMAR-TV was announced as CBS' third full-time television affiliate, after WCBS-TV in New York City and WCAU-TV in Philadelphia.
One of WMAR's early local personalities was Jim McKay, who was the first voice heard when the station began its test broadcasts, and called the horse race program that inaugurated the station's official launch. McKay later moved over to CBS briefly before achieving greater fame on ABC as host of Wide World of Sports and Olympic coverage. Another was Helen Delich Bentley, a maritime editor for the Baltimore Sun who hosted The Port That Built a City, a weekly review presenting maritime, shipping and transportation-related news. (Bentley later ran several times and was finally elected as the U.S. Representative from Maryland, serving several terms. By the 2010s, the Port of Baltimore was renamed symbolically for her.)
In 1959, WMAR-TV teamed up with WBAL-TV (channel 11) and WJZ-TV (channel 13) to build the world's first three-antenna candelabra tower. The new 730-foot (223 m) tower was built on the newly named "Television Hill" (formerly known as "Malden Hill") in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore, which significantly improved the station's signal coverage well beyond Central Maryland. During the 1970s, the FCC tightened its cross-ownership rules, eventually barring common ownership between a newspaper and a television or radio station in the same city without a waiver. However, the combination of the Sunpapers and WMAR-TV was one of several that were "grandfathered" under these rules.
Switch to NBCEdit
On March 3, 1981, CBS announced that it would be moving its affiliation to WBAL-TV, Baltimore's NBC station. Among its reasons for making the switch, CBS cited WMAR-TV's poor newscast ratings and frequent preemptions of network shows for syndicated programs, local specials, and sports coverage. After briefly considering becoming an independent once again, channel 2 quickly cut a deal with NBC and Baltimore's first affiliation switch took place on August 30, 1981. The final CBS program to air on channel 2 before the switch was an NFL preseason game between the Houston Oilers and the Dallas Cowboys, airing live at 9:00 p.m. Eastern Time on the night before the affiliation switch.
On March 1, 1982, after negotiations between WMAR-TV management and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) failed, all of the station's on-air talent, except one, went on strike. AFTRA members, joined by the Teamsters, the Communication Workers of America and other local unions, picketed the station's offices on York Road and Abell's offices at North Calvert and East Centre Streets. When color announcer (and long-time popular Baltimore Orioles third baseman) Brooks Robinson refused to cross the picket line at the start of the baseball season, the strike ended. The following day, both news anchors, Tom Sweeney and Curt Anderson, were fired.
On May 28, 1986, the A. S. Abell Company was purchased by the Los Angeles-based Times Mirror Company, the then-publisher of the Los Angeles Times. With the loss of the grandfathered protection between the former Abell media properties, Times-Mirror opted to keep The Sunpapers and sold WMAR-TV (and WRLH-TV in Richmond) to Gillett Communications in July 1986. After filing for bankruptcy sometime later, Gillett restructured its television holdings into SCI Television, and in the early 1990s, SCI put WMAR-TV back on the market.
The Cincinnati-based E. W. Scripps Company announced its purchase of the station in the summer of 1990, but in February 1991 the transfer was canceled after Scripps accused Gillett of misreporting WMAR's financial statements. Gillett then took legal action against Scripps, but both sides settled and the sale went forward. Scripps took control of the station in the spring of 1991. As this scenario was playing out, the Sinclair Broadcast Group, parent company of UHF station WBFF (channel 45), applied with the FCC for a new station on WMAR-TV's channel 2 allocation under a subsidiary called "Four Jacks Broadcasting." If it were granted, it would have resulted in the entire WBFF intellectual unit (including its Fox network affiliation) moving from channel 45 to channel 2, with WBFF's existing channel 45 allocation sold. In the end, however, Scripps' license to operate WMAR-TV on channel 2 was reaffirmed by the FCC, and WBFF permanently remained on channel 45.